Keep The Boks Down

Hello? Is there anyone out there? Is no-one listening to us?? We wouldn’t blame you – we haven’t been saying much recently due to <kids> and <stuff>. Sorry – we’re doing our best. To those who recognised us on our double date in the terrace with the Leinster ultras for the Pro12 semi – we’re touched, and the Ulsterman will be back. And maybe they’ll even win! Maybe.

Anyway, enough about the provinces, what about Ireland? We are still taking it in – we beat South Africa … in South Africa … with 14 men … for an hour! And we beat them well. I know the Boks are in organisational disarray with a new coach and having finally (mostly) moved on from the 2009 Lions generation, but still. As this season went on, Ireland have looked increasingly tired and uninspired, and the performance was completely out of the blue.

We think Schmidt is a better coach than Eddie or Deccie, but there was a definite sense of the malaise which took hold of those camps in 2007 and 2011 setting in. Our defence was passive and narrow, our attack virtually non-existent and the coach, with his conservative selection against the likes of Italy and his seeming refusal to consider a more expansive attacking gameplan (“Jared has never trained at fullback”), seemed ready to hunker down.

But a couple of things were happening. The first was a dose of some Traditional Wigan Values. Ireland hired Andy Farrell back in January, but he was only allowed to work in Axel’s Breakfast Club until June, and he has only had 2 weeks with the players – but there was a marked increase in aggression and line speed. It felt from the outside that perhaps Ireland needed a fresh voice, and it is to Schmidt’s credit that he has the humility to hire a man like Farrell, who is not going to be shy about expressing his opinions. When Deccie went looking for new blood after Gert Smal left (temporarily then permanently) in 2012, he ended up with Axel, plus a re-shaken dogs dinner of a ticket with Kissy as both defence and attack coach – in contrast, Schmidt has been backed by the Union to spend big and get one of the best around – and the impact looks immediate.

The other big thing to happen has been injuries. Joe Schmidt’s first choice fullbacks in his tenure have been Bob Kearney, Felix Jones and Zeebs – all of whom were unavailable to tour. When Schmidt was asked in the squad presser (which was, something a bid bonkers really, 4 days after the squad announcement) about who would be fullback, he mentioned Stuart Olding, Tiarnan O’Halloran .. and one of his centres moving back, then talked about Henshaw specifically. We felt that Payne was simply not going to be moved from the 13 jumper.

The argument has always been that Payne is our defensive linchpin and we just have to keep him there or we are risking anarchy – but we never really bought that one. Firstly, the system should never be that dependent on personnel that we cannot consider moving one guy (if it is true that Payne never lined out at 15 during training in the 6N, that’s poor), and secondly, Robbie Henshaw is a pretty good outside centre – he plays there for Connacht and they just won the Pro12. We never thought we would lose much by moving Henshaw out one and switching Payne to fullback – Henshaw is also an excellent defender, and the extra space at 13 allows him to offer more than crashing up the middle. We would then have a few options at inside centre, all Ulstermen; McCloskey (not touring, but very similar to de Allende, and a man who gets metres every time .. but is too loose for Schmidt), Bamm-Bamm (Test experience at 12, good passer, excellent defender and a good kicking game .. but playing 13 for Ulster to accommodate the Bangor Bulldozer) and Olding (classic second five, but just back from injury) – none of which you’d say aren’t worth a look at the very least.

But we digress – injury struck, and Payne was the man picked to play 15, and it was a remarkable success, for him, for Henshaw and for Marshall, who looks like a Test match animal. One can only hope that this wasn’t a temporary injury-enforced change and that we will go back to basics in November (who could have foreseen that Payne would be a brilliant fullback eh?), but it’s had an impact on our attacking play, arguably introducing a greater element of unpredictability in all three positions. Its a pretty depressing thought that injury continues to be our best selector.

Of course, we also lost Sexton as well, but we didn’t notice that much – Paddy Jackson had a very good game, and even kicked (one of) his drop goals! We had worried before the game that one Jackson start in three years, in a meaningless RWC warm up, perhaps wasn’t the best way of preparing for an injury to your injury-prone outhalf, but Jackson stepped in effortlessly. He is, in our opinion, the best passer in the country, but he kicked 86% of possession, something very Schmidt/Sexton-y.

Now, to address the Stander red. We’ve watched it a few times, and we think it was a red card – it was dangerous play, and there was no need for Stander to turn his hip into Lambie’s head. As with Jared Payne vs Saracens a few years ago, as soon as we saw it, we thought ” uh-oh, the red might be in play here” – and if you think it is, you can argue it’s a harsh red, but can’t complain too much.

Back to the bigger picture – we won by 6 points having played an hour down a man – what’s that benchmarked to – a 15/20 point win? It was comprehensive, and South Africa were a rabble at the end, short on inspiration, leadership and guile. They just didn’t seem to understand what was happening. And they are already making their excuses, with Coetzee claiming Ireland weren’t interested in playing rugby – but surely that’s what a Springbok coach wants? A team who will try and take them on up front and let themselves be mashed into the turf by large tough men? This is a team who are there for the taking – and we should be winning this series from here.

Now, the good news is that it is looking like the only player we will be down is CJ Stander, and only for one match. Given we are down a useful XV of injured players, that’s a break we need to make the most of. Amazingly, three of our bench didn’t play (or need to play) in Cape Town, but will that wash at 1,700m? Certainly, we don’t expect any experimentation – while we were pretty disappointed with Schmidt’s Italy selection in the Six Nations, but this time we’re going to get into bed with the flat earthers and say that a must-win Test in Ellis Park is no place for making changes. If the Springboks find their feet in Jo’burg, the final Test could be a train wreck.

We expect Ruddock to slot in for Stander, with Sean Reidy on the bench (gulp) – we’d want to see Henderson at 6 with Dillane into the team, but it isn’t Schmidt’s style, and he seems to see Henderson as purely a second row. Else, as you were – the rest of the lads will be needed in PE. The Springboks are there to be beaten – let’s bloody beat them.



  1. gerald williamson

     /  June 14, 2016

    Good article. Just not sure about the straight red on Stander. Did not think he deliberately took out Lambie. Thought a yellow card would be sufficient.

    • curates_egg

       /  June 14, 2016

      Intent is irrelevant…but it looked harsh to me.

    • cambridgefergal

       /  June 14, 2016

      It was determined by outcome, like the Payne/Goode incident.
      Had he just banged him and Lambie had bounced straight back up, yellow at most.

      • Steve

         /  June 14, 2016

        While that may be true, I think the point is that it’s red because this kind of recklessness, not intent, can cause potentially serious injury, as was the case here. So rather than not giving a red to Stander, reds should be given to players that do similarly reckless things and get away with it. I did think it was borderline, and the ref might have been harsh in the assessment that he should have known he’d never make the charge down, but it was a hard one to argue with.

  2. ORiordan

     /  June 14, 2016

    On Schmidt, a more nuanced view could be that his strengths are coming up with a game plan to beat the opposition, getting the best out of a given group of players, but has flaws as a selector.

    The flaw being an inclination to trust players he has worked with in the past rather than change things. That’s hardly unusual in coaches and is maybe the rule rather than the exception and there are tinker men coaches who take things too far the other direction, so it is a difficult balance to get right.

    • Desmond

       /  June 14, 2016

      Good take on the coach. Schmidt may get the final word but surely Easterby and Farrell also have input on selections.

    • ruckinhell

       /  June 14, 2016

      Very much this!

      [Armchair psuedo-pundit bullshit alert] For me, Schmidt seems to be so detail orientated that perhaps he becomes fixated on the proven attributes of the players that he has worked with and conversely fixated on the perceived failings of the players that he hasn’t. Therefore, Jared Payne’s defensive solidity at 13 becomes something that he no longer needs to worry about, whereas a Stuart McCloskey and his “loose play” might be something that would keep him fretting at night. Watching this clip below of him retching in the box during the game highlights the stress the man is under at times- it’s easy from the cheap-seats to bemoan his decisions but at the end of the day the man lives with the consequences of these in a way we don’t.

  3. Thought the return of our impact bench was nice to see. Dillane performing Henderson’s old role until his time in the first team is ready. And Cronin back to doing Cronin things. Still love to see what a back three of Payne, Gilroy and Healy could do. Hopefully we win next weekend and get a match to try some combinations the week after.

    • curates_egg

       /  June 14, 2016

      I’m probably the only one who hopes Healy doesn’t get game time: I don’t buy the hype and think he would be revealed. I also thought Earls was very good. My preferred Ireland back three would have Earls/Fitz-Gilroy-Payne, with Earls/Fitz on the bench. Such a pleasure to see Payne finally at full back.

      • SportingBench

         /  June 14, 2016

        I’ve criticised Earls in the past but he was very solid at the weekend and I don’t mean that as a negative. It was the first time I have seen him play for Ireland and not though, how do I put this? maybe that he was acting up to the level rather than belonging there?
        He looked composed which is not an aura he always gives off and while less high profile than some other stories at the weekend, I wonder if at long last he is maturing as a player and will now deliver on his previous potential.

      • Thought Earls looked good as well and I’m not really critising anyone from last weekend. I just would like to see how they would play together as I think its probably the best counter attacking back three we could field. For next weekend continuity is probably going to be key and more than happy with the back threes play if it continues in the same vein. If the series is won after next weekend a bit of experimentation for the final match would be nice though.

        On Healy, does a breakout season count as hype? Think people are excited because he scores and sets up a lot of tries. Although personally I’d rather see Adelokun involved from the Connacht lads.

        • curates_egg

           /  June 14, 2016

          I dunno. He’s 27 and has gotten on the end of stuff from an incredibly well-oiled Connacht machine in the Pro12, due to his pace. There is enormous hype/clamour around him after this season and it has more than a whiff of the Fionn Carr to it. Personally, I think he’d be a good 7s player.

          • We’ve never quite been on the Healy train as much as some others. For Ireland, he’d also be in a (reasonably) well-oiled machine, if one not quite so tailored to his skillset.

            But then again, there is the whole “scoring tries” thing – it probably won’t catch on, but Santiago Cordero is making a decent fist of it

          • curates_egg

             /  June 14, 2016

            But that’s kind of my point: it wouldn’t be suited to his skillset. Even if it were part of our strategy, he is not going to be able to simply run through international defensive lines on the counter like he does against Zebre. Combine that with his iffy tackling and the question marks over his fielding and what do you have left?

            We all love a dazzling try scoring winger…I just don’t think that Healy would be able to do that with Ireland. And, with all respect to the guy, I think it is a bit of a leap to compare him to Cordero.

          • Absolutely it is. But sometimes we focus too much on what someone *can’t* do, and forget what they *can* do. Was the case with Earls for years

          • curates_egg

             /  June 14, 2016

            Yes. I got your point. I just don’t think he would be able to do what he *can* do for Connacht vs Zebre with Ireland vs basically any international side. So if he *can’t* even do the thing he *can* supposedly do, I struggle to see what’s left that he *can* do.

          • Lol at the idea that the leagues top try scorer is *only* running in tries against Zebre. There’s an awful lot of people that judge players on reputation from several years ago, claiming that the likes of Niyi or Healy are not good fielders of the ball, weak in the tackle etc. Nothing Connacht have done in the last 3 years would suggest that Lam would allow such fatal flaws to remain in a player. I don’t think Healy is the best defensive winger in the squad but he certainly won’t be a weak tackler.

          • Healy isn’t coming off a breakout season. He’s been extremely prolific for the last two seasons, including in last season’s Connacht side which was not quite so well-oiled a machine. The notion that he’d be ineffective at international level doesn’t really stack up; he’s comfortably outperformed every other Irish option (bar maybe Gilroy) in attack in the Pro12 in recent times, which allows for a direct comparison. If it’s so easy to score tries in the Pro12 (and total, unadulterated bullshit to say he was only running them in against Zebre or “getting on the end of stuff” from Connacht’s attack, btw), surely the people he’s competing against for a spot in the squad/team should be able to do it? But they don’t, because they’re not as good in attack; they’re slower, their lines aren’t as intelligent, their footwork isn’t as good. It’s not a matter of hype: it’s just looking at what’s directly in front of you and acknowledging it rather than parroting the party line that he’s “Fionn Carr mk. II”. Tbh when I hear someone spouting nonsense like that or saying they “don’t buy the hype” I just write them off as not watching Connacht play very much. There are weaknesses to his game, but he’s a phenomenally gifted runner, the likes of which Irish rugby so rarely produces that he’s at least worth a shot.

          • curates_egg

             /  June 17, 2016

            Thoughtless, when I read your post (and get beyond playing the man instead of the ball), it seems you agree with me on his skills but draw a different conclusion. He’s a good “runner”, so you conclude that is enough for him to be given a shot. I respect your position but disagree with it. I won’t slag you off though or claim your opinion is not based on watching him enough or “parroting the party line” (whatever party that is, let me know because it is not a line I’ve seen elsewhere). I’ll just agree to disagree without being a male chicken about it.

  4. D6W

     /  June 14, 2016

    Welcome back. Beginning to give up hope of hearing from you again!

    Totally agree that injury is still the only way significant changes get made to Irish team. And maybe Schmidt should take more criticism than EOS or The Kidder in this respect, as Schmidt has a lot more realistic options to choose from.

    As for the red, I think harsh, unless you believe CJ deliberately turned his hip into Lambi. I think he was judged by outcome rather than the action. Henshaw yellow was just, but the try was definite obstruction. And there should of been a yellow for high tackle on Murray, which he rode well to score. Worst ref international performance since, well, the 6N.

    Anyway, great performance, and not a blue back in site. How times have changed. I think Schmidt should give others a chance this weekend, keeping all fresh for 3rd test, the likely decider. Hopefully SA a bit jaded by then, as I guess Coetzee may not be able or brave enough to make significant changes so early in his tenure.

    • cambridgefergal

       /  June 14, 2016

      Agree. Last game is back at sea-level; I would ring the changes for this weekend, and target the third Test.

  5. Buckaroo Soldier

     /  June 14, 2016

    Welcome back! Brilliant article as always!

  6. scrumdog

     /  June 14, 2016

    Good take on the coach. Schmidt may get the final word but surely Easterby and Farrell also have input on selections.

  7. scrumdog

     /  June 14, 2016

    …was responding to O’Riordan

  8. Fáilte ar ais, dudes. On the red card I’m in total agreement. Stander went to block Lambie’s path and maybe rough him up a bit by turning in the hip. Big deal in Dodge; we’re dealing with Test rugby here; that is what one does. Did he intend to or know he was going to knock Lambie into next week? I don’t imagine so, but he took a risk with the well-being of an opposition player and deserved the dismissal and the one match ban. At the time I was bullin’, ‘cos it looked like this idiotic incident would cost us the match. In retrospect it makes our historic victory even more monumental.

    I thought Ireland were very good. Not merely brave, but also intelligent. PJ really shone: the drop-kick to level at 13-13 and the tackle in the corner in front of our tryline at the end of the first half being outstanding moments. Perhaps ‘cos I’m a Leinster fan I never really rated Luke Marshall. I stand corrected. He was fantastic. His intelligent kicking in behind the SA defence gained us a try as well as territory and relief on a number of occasions, when they were extremely necessary.

    The opportunity to win the series is in Joburg and must be taken. If we let the Boks back in there, more than likely they’ll win the deciding third Test, seeing as how they’re more used to dealing with the change from high-altitude to sea level than we are. All the pressure is going to be on South Africa in the second Test. If we can withstand the initial Blitzkrieg they’re going to rain down on us, then the pressure starts to build on them. They are going to be the more nervous team, staring ignominy in the face.

    We’re lucky that the Boks are at such sixes and sevens. I’m all for their making the national team more representative of the various ethnicities, but can’t for the life of me see why the traditional strengths have to go out the window. I mean, even if they fielded 15/23 Zulus or Xhosas and zero Boers, I would still expect them to bash the sh**e out of whoever the opposition is – on home turf go h-áirithe!!! Why they can’t get that together is beyond me. Ireland must capitalise on the current situation, as it may never present itself again!!!!

  9. WatchingfromSydney

     /  June 14, 2016

    I think the most pleasing was the team’s collective response to the adversity. Huge psychological shift to do this in SH where every single other occasion when games turned against us in SA or NZ we have not been able to respond with focused conviction and execution. Coincidentally the u20s were looking ropey mid way through their first half as they were down to 14 and NZ looked like they were shifting up the gears. It is mastering this mindset that will not only enable us to break the NZ hoodoo but push on and be always competitive and do well in future RWC.

    Glad to see you back. I won a bet with a mate that kids were central to your absence!

  10. Cian

     /  June 14, 2016

    What a fantastic win. Great points in the article and comments on Schmidt’s strengths and possible weaknesses. Regarding the red, I think it was the wrong call, because it’s something that has not been refereed that way in the past. Rugby seems to be walking a fine and uncertain line at the moment between allowing collisions and increasing protections of player welfare, with the result that players don’t really know what they are and aren’t allowed to do.

    Take, for example, a Courtney Lawes trademark outhalf smash. Usually, the 10 has released the ball by the time Courtney levels them, but he has committed prior to that release. He knows full well the balance of probability is he’ll end up leveling a player without the ball, but under the rules of rugby he’s absolutely still allowed to go for it – a tackle without the ball is illegal, unless the target still had possession when you committed to it.

    Changing this, or the ability to attempt a chargedown, by putting duty of care above all else, would be a major change to how rugby is played. Tacklers would only be able to go for a hit if they’re sure they’ll make it/won’t injure anyone, likewise chargers, or players kicking at the ball on the floor a la Brown or O’Connell. Simon Hick on Second Captains suggested that this should happen, and I don’t disagree, but if it does happen it should be explicit! Not gradually penalised more and more frequently, causing controversy on every occasion. The point of harshly penalising such events is to discourage players from taking similar risks in future. Surely it would be far more effective if they were straight out told “if you aren’t sure, don’t do it”.

    • The fact that Courtney Lawes continuously gets away with his “trademark outhalf smash” as you so pithily describe it, is an indictment of the administrators of English and international rugby. Stuart Barnes each time pointing out, that it’s “perfectly legal” only makes matters worse. It DRIVES ME MAD. I’d love to see the likes Etzebeth, Ritalic, Itoje or Donncha Ryan do it to Lawes some time, put him into hospital for a couple of months and see how he likes it!!!!

      • cambridgefergal

         /  June 14, 2016

        Xavier Rush did it to Lawes in a Cardiff Blues v Northampton Heineken Cup match.

  11. SportingBench

     /  June 14, 2016

    Nice to have you back.
    One point I would disagree with you and the countless others on, is the comparison between Stander’s red and Payne’s one. Payne’s was a clear red – he simply ran through a player jumping for the ball. Stander’s was more of a playing incident so in that regard was more marginal. However, as my Dad says, if you’re asking the referee a question, don’t cry about the answer.
    On the other hand, I join the 99.999999% of the rugby public is rejoicing in seeing Payne play 15. As my Dad also says (playing Columbo’s wife in this comment), your should play your best players I their best position and force the others to adapt if required.

    • Thanks!

      We weren’t really trying to compare them as apples and apples, but to make the point that you saw both and went “a red is in play here”. Fundamentally, both players let the ref make that decision. Whatever Schmidt said in public, you can bet he wasn’t as forgiving to Stander privately

  12. Paul Murphy

     /  June 14, 2016

    Great to have you back boys. You’ve been dearly missed. As ever you guys are spot on with your assertions. My thinking on the whole Payne at 15 thing is that with no defence coach in position for the Six Nations Payne’s role as defensive leader at 13 was even more important. He became our defacto defence coach. Keeping him in place meant Ireland didn’t have to spend hours rebuilding their defensive structures with players in different positions and train new people up. There’s a huge amount of luck involved in sport and the injuries forced Ireland to shuffle the deck and gave Andy Farrell a clean slate coming to build his own system.

  13. Hairy Naomh Mhuire

     /  June 14, 2016

    Hard to remember a match when there was such a consistent high level of performance across the team – particularly for the hour with 14 – but even allowing for that I thought Marshall’s performance was astounding. ‘Test match animal’ is high praise indeed (particularly away to the Boks) but even that does not do justice to what he delivered on Saturday. Given the 3 year absence since his last Irish start, injury / concussion issues (& lack of ‘good face’!!!) it was just an unbelievably good display. I was delighted for him. When you add in McCloskey’s form in 6 N’s our post BOD concerns about weakness in the centre are now a distant memory.

  14. LarryM

     /  June 14, 2016

    Great to have you guys back. Usually would try and be constructive but I agree with most of what you say. Personally I think the Stander thing was a yellow but, like you, I thought on first watch that red was a possibility.

    Think Schmidt definitely went through a period of being overly conservative – and that you have a point that he likes to have fewer things to concern about (Jared defends well in the most difficult position to defend, tick) but I also think he just doesn’t like uncertainty generally. Rob Kearney has always been a consistent and dependable player, it’s just that around the start of 2014 he went from being dependably good to being dependably underwhelming. However, from Schmidt’s point of view I can see why he was so reluctant to bin someone who he’d been able to rely on without fail since he arrived in Ireland, for Leinster then Ireland.

    However, times have changed. Hopefully Jared is at full back for now. Can’t wait for the second test now – expectation, the bane of Irish rugby.

  15. Great to have ye back lads.
    Saw this on YooTooob last night and thought it was worth a watch. Post match analysis from SA TV. Illuminating comments.

  16. seiko

     /  June 15, 2016

    “When Deccie went looking for new blood after Gert Smal left (temporarily then permanently) in 2012, he ended up with Axel, plus a re-shaken dogs dinner of a ticket with Kissy as both defence and attack coach – in contrast, Schmidt has been backed by the Union to spend big and get one of the best around – and the impact looks immediate.”

    I wouldn’t regard Simon Easterby as a top of the tree forwards coach signing. Though, I suppose thats what happens when you lose a coach and you are looking for a replacement at short notice (i.e., Axel’s loan to Ireland for the 6Ns when Gert Small was ill).

    Easterby seems to be the forgotten man of the coaching team who coxed that world class performance from Devin Toner!

  17. Amiga500

     /  June 15, 2016

    Luckily we’d all the injuries heading into the game.

    No way would our “first choice” team have survived.

    Good job Selector Injury – improving Irish rugby performances since 2005.

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